Why is it so hard to get back on the horse once we’ve fallen off? This is something I often ask myself when I fail at sticking to a new habit. If you’ve ever decided to start a new habit, like eating healthier, quitting smoking/drinking, or writing a page a day, I’m sure you’ve faced the guilt, doubt, or even sadness of falling off the horse.
Over the last few years, I’ve added multiple positive habits to my life, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and working on this blog. I’ve failed many times at keeping up these habits. However, the length of time between when I fall off the horse and when I jump back on has shortened dramatically over time.
For a while, I would fall of the horse and not be able to get back on because I’d spend time regretting what I did, feeling shameful that I couldn’t keep my word, or feeling sad about my inability to complete or stick to something. But! There is one action that has allowed me to sustain momentum and obtain personal success: forgiving myself!
By being gentle with myself and reminding myself that I’m human, I’ve been able to forgive myself and get moving again much faster. Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean going easy on yourself or not holding yourself accountable, it just means acknowledging that you aren’t perfect and you shouldn’t aim to be! If you set a goal for yourself to start a new habit, it helps to acknowledge that you might f*ck up! You might not fail, but chances are you won’t be able to stick to that work out 5x a week every single week or you’ll have a relapse of some sort. When you acknowledge failure before your even start your habit, it will be easier to get back on track when it does happen.
What I used to do when I failed at a habit:
Become sad or depressed that I couldn’t stick to my habit.
Think about how I was imperfect and that there was no point in continuing on (sounds dramatic, but that’s where the mind goes sometimes).
Go in the opposite direction. For example, if the habit was eating healthy and I had an unhealthy meal, I’d screw the rest of the day (or week!) and go seek out the worst of the worst.
Start from scratch. Instead of hitting a bump in the road and continuing on towards my goal, I’d feel like I needed to start all over again. The problem with this mindset is that, generally, we tend to want to start fresh tomorrow or next week. When we aim for perfection, instead of getting back on track as soon as possible, we cycle through all of the previous points and then pick a new date to start again. We’ve lost valuable time where we could have been improving and enjoying ourselves, rather than experiencing all of these negative emotions.
What I do now:
Step one is always to forgive myself. If I go right to criticizing myself for not being able to do something or wallowing because I broke my promise to myself, I’m not acknowledging that mistakes and failures happen, and that’s part of the process! You can’t be consistently perfect, that’s too much pressure. The graph to success isn’t a straight line, it’s a wiggly-ass line that dips up and down many times on its way to the top.
Remind myself I am human. If I wasn’t making mistakes I would probably get bored, I wouldn’t learn anything, and I wouldn’t improve.
I ask myself what the meaning of this failure was. What can you learn from your failure that can help you keep up your habit in the future? Maybe it happened because it showed you that there are other things more important in your life. Or it could have taught you that there are specific distractions that tend to stop you from succeeding. I think there’s something to learn from every mistake, so look for the lessons.
Remember that what has happened in your past doesn’t have to happen in your future. Sometimes I’ll think that I won’t be able to stick to a habit because, so far, I haven’t been able to show myself that I can. This is a pretty pessimistic outlook. It doesn’t allow for any growth or improvement and leaves you feeling doomed to a cycle of trial and failure forever. Change your thought patterns. Remind yourself that you are able to change your behaviours. Just because you’ve messed up before doesn’t mean you will forever. Maybe we all need to screw up a few times, or a lot of times, before we can be successful.
Decide if I need to recalibrate. I started out telling myself that I would like to write 2 new blog posts every week. However, with my current lifestyle, I am finding it hard to stick to 1 per week without some serious dedication. Therefore, I chose to recalibrate my goal to be more achievable. If I end up over achieving at this goal, there’s no reason why I can’t do more posts a week in the future. This isn’t to say that by recalibrating you’re taking the easy way out, it’s making sure that your goals are actually attainable so you can get some successes under your belt.
Write down why it didn’t work out. This week, I wanted to have a blog post done by Monday. When Monday came around, I hadn’t even gotten past the first paragraph. I felt sad and disappointed in myself right away. But, rather than repeat my old mistakes and let myself sit in guilt, I reminded myself that I had taken on a new position at work and my hours had nearly doubled from part time to full time. Of course I was going to be a little off-kilter and have less time! I was also getting used to a new schedule of waking up early when I hadn’t done so in a long time. I was trying to hold myself accountable to the deadlines I’d set based on my old schedule when I was actually living in a different one! By figuring out why I don’t complete my goals, I am able to set more realistic deadlines for myself and avoid failing for the same reasons in the future.
I acknowledge that sticking to habits is hard. In our world full of distractions and temptations, sticking to a habit can make you feel a little removed from the world. Particularly when doing it makes you feel marginalized, like not drinking alcohol or eating meat/dairy/sugar/etc., or requires hard work and time spent alone, like writing daily or practicing a skill. If you accept that your journey will have difficulties, you’ll be better equipped to face them when they come and push through to the awesome part! Sticking to a new habit and improving yourself is one of the best feelings there is!
I keep a growth mindset. If we have a fixed mindset, every time we fail we might think that the world is against us or our failures are beyond our control. This makes it a lot harder to get back on track. On the other hand, maintaining a growth mindset allows us to look back at our mistakes, figure out what we could have done differently, and accept that this challenge was a step in our process to becoming better. If you’re interested in learning more about achieving and maintaining a growth mindset, check out Brendon Burchard’s video.
Start as soon as possible. If I tell myself I’m going to get a post done and I miss my deadline, I start writing again as soon as I can. Rather than letting it get to me and wasting a day away on Netflix, I am now able to acknowledge that I missed my deadline and either set a new one or just take my next available block of time to work as much as possible on that post.
Instead of letting your mind go to that place of guilt, give yourself the greatest tool in moving forward: forgiveness. You’ll be more optimistic and honest with yourself. You’ll be able to recover from challenges and failures much faster. You’ll improve quicker because you’ll have to start over less. You’ll also save yourself from a lot of unnecessary guilt and sadness. Love yourself, forgive yourself, and move forward towards your dreams!